A bad week for democracy in Texas

Texas is in bad shape, folks. Massive flooding has led even the most rabidly anti-spending Republicans to crawl back to Washington asking for money. The state is doing all it can to prevent its citizens from getting health insurance, and is making it easier for doctors to deny them once they have it. The state’s legislature is having an existential crisis over what will happen if the Supreme Court forces them to let same-sex couples get married.

But it goes beyond that. In an impressive display of how bad it is at democracy, Texas went through three cases in two days this week that demonstrate a systematic effort to deny citizenship and voting rights for no good reason other than electioneering:

Diluting Hispanic voting power

First, on Tuesday, two Texans got the Supreme Court to reconsider the “one person, one vote” principle that has been a standard of our democracy for over 50 years — asking for a redefinition based on data that no one currently collects in order to undermine the state’s growing Hispanic population.

The plaintiffs in the case are asking the Court to interpret the principle based on eligible voters instead of total population, since apparently the taxes that non-eligible voters pay don’t count when it comes to deciding how to represent them. If the eligible voter standard is adopted, it would cut the voting power of urban centers such as Dallas and Houston — with large numbers of ineligible voters — in half, making it much more difficult to draw district lines that provide minority protections under the Voting Rights Act while making any semblance of geographic sense.

Nullifying birthright citizenship

Then, later on Tuesday, a group of immigrants sued the state’s Department of State Health Services for refusing to grant the American-born children of Mexican citizens residing in the United States birth certificates. Per The Monitor:

Lawyer Jennifer Harbury said at a news conference Wednesday that the lawsuit came after registrars’ offices across the Valley and in El Paso turned people away, telling them that the matricula card — a secondary identification issued by a Mexican consulate — is not being accepted as a valid form of identification.

State officials ordered employees to follow a policy that denies the use of the card and a passport without a proper visa, Harbury said, without making any official changes to the Texas Administrative Code.

In other words, a few folks in the Texas state government decided that the children of immigrants shouldn’t get to become American citizens — a right specifically protected by the 14th Amendment. Of course, the flagrantly unconstitutional notion that American-born children of immigrants are less-deserving of citizenship than American-born children of natives has been picked up by Constitution-waving conservatives around the country, who fear that an influx of anchor babies are going to cause all manner of harms ranging from diluting American culture to incubating terrorism.

It should go without saying that the 14th Amendment is not subject to bureaucratic discretion, but apparently someone needs to say that to Texas’s Department of State Health Services. They don’t get to decide who is and isn’t a citizen; the Constitution does.

Nullifying voter registration

As morally suspect as the above two cases are, advocates for the eligible voter standard and an end to birthright citizenship can at least make a bad argument that their motivations are grounded in punishing those who enter the country illegally. But by Wednesday, even that bad argument lost whatever legs it had to stand on. Texas isn’t just interested in taking away and/or ignoring the civil rights of non-citizens; it wants to ignore the rights of citizens who may vote for Democrats, too.

Flag of Texas, via Wikimedia Commons

Flag of Texas, via Wikimedia Commons

This was made apparent when Battleground Texas sent a letter to Secretary of State Carlos Cascos — likely in advance of a lawsuit — alleging that Texas’s government has systematically ignored voter registration forms filled out at government agencies such as the Department of Public Safety (Texas’s DMV), and has failed to act on many of the more than 4,600 complaints filed regarding registration issues from September of 2013 through December of 2014. This led thousands of citizens to show up to vote under the assumption that they were registered, only to find that they were not on the rolls.

The bureaucratic snafu — to put it generously — arose due to the DPS automatically dropping voters who submit change of address forms from the voter rolls at their previous address, rather than updating their registration to reflect their new address. According to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, change of address forms are supposed to automatically update registration unless the citizen affirmatively opts-out.

If the number of complaints is in the thousands, the number of voters who were actually disenfranchised is likely much, much higher.

While these violations of voting rights affect anyone filling out a change of address at Texas DPSs, they are likely to disproportionately affect lower-income and minority voters in the state. As MSNBC notes, only 39 percent Hispanic Texans who were eligible to vote in 2012 did so, while 61 percent of eligible white voters and 63 percent of eligible black voters cast ballots. Furthermore, voter registration issues disproportionally affect voters who move frequently — lower-income, minority and young voters who lean Democratic. Texas had the fourth-lowest voter registration rate in the country as of 2012, and barriers to entry in voter registration are also one of the primary reasons why eligible voters don’t cast ballots.

What’s really pernicious about the state effectively taking legitimate voter registration forms and delicately placing them in the trash is that it doesn’t affect people who are breaking the rules; it affects people who are, by definition of registering vote while interacting with government agencies, following the rules of citizenship perfectly.

As if it weren’t already obvious, Texas proved in more ways than seemingly possible this week how openly hostile it is to democracy. If ever there were cases for federalizing our electoral and citizenship processes, one need only look at Texas to find them.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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28 Responses to “A bad week for democracy in Texas”

  1. Dirt Works says:

    I’d buy a lot of bug spray if i lived there. after the water recedes a bit there’s going to be lots of still, standing water pools and slow moving steams around which are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes and gnats. You’ll be using a lot of it so buy non=toxic products so you don’t exchange one problem for another.

  2. DGT says:

    As everyone knows, God is an American, so like all good Americans, he’s not very good with geography.

  3. quax says:

    Sea levels won’t be the biggest problem in first world countries. Severe weather events outside the scope of what our species so far experienced will be more of a headache, as well as food security.

    But of course at any rate the global poor are going to be the biggest losers, just as always.

  4. Indigo says:

    That sounds about right. By then, the few who remain in south Florida will build stilt houses in the mangrove swamps. No problem . . . for local folks. As for the celebrities, they’ll work out something nice for themselves. But fashionable suburbanites might loose out pretty badly. They’d have to flee to the north, possibly as far as Atlanta or even beyond.

  5. quax says:

    “Dual Citizenship is doubling down on the Nationalism thing”

    No not really, it just means that you can easily move across borders, and the more passports you have, the less partial you tend to be to any one of them.

  6. quax says:

    With regards to the Florida projection I’d wager it’s about 200 years out give and take a century, assuming the current trends are indeed accelerating (more in line with the worst case scenario).


  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    Sea walls out. Got it.

    Read all about it here http://gpsworld.com/down-in-the-flood-with-gps/ and here http://flood.firetree.net/?ll=43.3251,-101.6015&z=13&m=7

  8. Indigo says:

    Sea walls along the Florida coast won’t do the job. Dutch technicians have already learned that it’s not possible to dyke Miami, for example, because there’s no bedrock, it’s all sitting on sand and silt on top of porous limestone. The geology won’t support effective walls.The glamor shot of south Florida under water all the way up to Lake Okeechobee is a fun one we’ve all seen before. No one who posts it has ever answered my simple and direct question about it, though. What year does that projected water level represent? 2025? 2055? 3074? You could be the first to demonstrate the integrity to put a plausible date on that fantasy photo.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    Thinking back just a bit there have been lots of unexpected and fatal weather events from super tornadoes flattening Joplin to Katrina and the super storm that hit Jersey and NY.

    I don’t think we’re all doomed but a lot of people are going to die because of global warming. And we’re going to need very expensive sea walls all along the coasts.

  10. Indigo says:

    Progressive Florida is outraged by those newly approved exploration areas but, as you’ve probably noticed, the Progressive Florida voice is almost completely silenced. I’d like to blame Governor Scott but he’s just the tip of an extremely large iceberg. I’m not sure Florida’s got much of a future, and that includes NASA.

  11. Indigo says:

    I’m anticpating an India-style summer, now that you mention it. The chances appear to be good that we won’t have much of a hurricane season this year but that’s only half the picture because a near-drought could be equally destructive.

  12. olandp says:

    When will those Obama FEMA camps be ready? We need them now!

  13. RamonaPStubbs says:

    ★✩★✩ $83 /hour @mi16//



  14. Bill_Perdue says:

    Obama has a solution – fracking and more offshore drilling, especially in the Arctic Sea.

  15. Bill_Perdue says:

    Some don’t want to. They want to rebuild what American corporations destroyed.

  16. mf_roe says:

    Floods are a bitch, but Texas has been suffering a serious LONG term drought. You can build a boat but there isn’t much to do when the water runs out. I’m just hoping we don’t get the kind of summer that India has been suffering. We are just entering the unknown territory of Climate Change and nobody truly knows exactly what and how quickly the new conditions will arrive.

    We had a huge problem predicting weather when we had decades of data, with the the new extreme swings making the old weather prediction models useless being able to prepare for weather disasters may be a thing of the past.

  17. mf_roe says:

    Hey friend, they could stay here and do that.

  18. Bill_Perdue says:

    I think it has more to do with the idea of working here and then returning home to rebuild economies shattered by Bill Clintons NAFTA.

  19. Indigo says:

    I don’t know what it says about the Divine Mind, but I think it’s curious that God is so angry with Ireland because of the equality vote that he flooded Texas.

  20. mf_roe says:

    Southern edge of Dallas, had people in East Texas, grew up hearing tales of the horrible wild monsters of “The Big Thicket”, thought it was tall tales– then Gohmert.

    Not that the Dem that represents my district is able to accomplish anything constructive.

    I’m 66 so I remember a very different Texas—-had problems blacks and browns were as ill treated as they are today and sometimes even worse. But the education was Good, the college tuition was CHEAP. Hard working people didn’t have much but they were treated with respect. And the Post Reconstruction Constitution actually restricted government to levels Libertarians could only dream of today. Today we are starting to resemble Saudi Arabia.

  21. I am from Texas as well. East Texas to be precise which means I am represented by Louie “Terror Babies” Gohmert. There are lots of nasty people in Tx but there are also very good people. I am so tired of hearing people say “let them secede” or worse. Not everyone in this state is stupid.

  22. 2karmanot says:

    So right. The techies have destroyed Sf, driving away artists, poets, and the funky spirit that once called Noe Valley, the Castro, the Mission and SOM home. Pretty soon SF will be like Paris and the price of breakfast at Starbucks will cost the equivalent of a days pay for normal folks.

  23. mf_roe says:

    Thanks, we are in it together California has its share of very evil dangerous types, and their misdeeds spill across the land. The evil that comes out of silicone valley is even worse than the crap in Texas because it directly effects the whole country. The tools that NSA uses against us is how the Uber Rich Tech have undermined our democracy.

  24. 2karmanot says:

    My sympathies mf

  25. mf_roe says:

    Dual Citizenship is doubling down on the Nationalism thing so I have a problem with that part, the rest, yeah, this nation was founded on the idea that some were better suited to rule than others. What we have now is the logical result.

  26. mf_roe says:

    Molly Ivins was good. But the defeat of Ann Richards signaled the turning point for Texas. And since I am lauding the Great Lady Texans of my lifetime take a moment to remember Barbara Jordan. I get so tired of people denigrating Texas as the asshole of the world and make smart ass comments about how Texas is full of nothing but the worse of the worst. Yes there is a huge bunch of vile scum in my state but They aren’t the majority they are the the gerrymandered minority rulers of a state that has been under attract of the Mega rich since the ’50s.

  27. 2karmanot says:

    God has hated Texas since Molly Ivins died, la Petite Shrub got elected to Presdint, and Louie Goober said his first word: ‘Duh.”. If things don’t approve and soon God may turn Texas into the Burble’s first turd of salt. Hopefully our dear friends in that god forsaken hole of regression will migrate before then.

  28. Bill_Perdue says:

    The fight for voting rights and citizenship rights are important because they underscore the fact that the US is not democratic and that it’s a republic of the plutocrats and always has been.

    These plutocratic self-described leaders like the Clintons and the Bushes use union busting, rampant racism, misogyny, homophobia and racist wars of aggression as part of a strategy of divide and rule and have since the earliest days of the US.

    All persons born here and all immigrants should be given full citizenship rights, including the right to dual citizenship and all the social benefits given other workers.

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